Video series inspires kids to act on climate
By Cara Fleischer
Many Americans understand the science behind climate change and the harmful effects it is causing worldwide, including severe weather, sea level rise, and climate refugees. What we may not realize is the emotional toll this kind of slow-moving doomsday scenario is taking on our children’s mental health.
Experts say that kids are suffering. In a recent interview, psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren said, “It’s heart stopping to think of what the kids are going through. Many are already expressing profound despair at what’s happening in the world. It’s no secret that they know harm is coming to them; the sensitive ones are struggling.” She goes on to say that it is important to address their fears and find ways to take action to empower them.
Young Voices for the Planet
A video series called “Young Voices for the Planet,” available on PBS, does just that. In the short films documenting 12 engaged youth, children’s book author and CCL volunteer Lynne Cherry shares stories of kids across the globe who are taking action in their schools and communities. The videos educate and inspire by showing young people doing extraordinary things to help the planet, giving them a sense of hope.
After spending a lot of time with youth, Cherry found that they shied away from upsetting stories about the environment, so she preferred a more positive approach by celebrating the success of kids who were making a difference. She was cognizant of the term “motivated avoidance,” which illustrates that people will actively avoid learning about seemingly hopeless issues, and to reach them, you must deliver the topic through uplifting solutions.
Cherry delivers on this promise with the Young Voices for the Planet videos. The episodes feature groups of young activists who put their ideas into action to help the environment. The first film, Kids vs. Global Warming, began with eighth grader Alec Loorz sharing his plan to create and place 100 poles around his town of Ventura, Calif. to show what 20 feet of predicted sea level rise would look like. Loorz empowered his classmates to join the effort and, playing off of Apple’s popular branding, created an iMatter campaign to help kids speak out about their concerns for the future in a climate changed world.
In another segment, a Girl Scout troop teamed up with the Sierra Club to give away 5,000 free CFL light bulbs in the San Francisco Bay area. As they went door to door and set up stands all over town to offer the free bulbs and information on energy efficiency to grateful residents, their excitement grew as they saw their positive impact. By featuring youth who have used their creativity to work on some of our biggest challenges, the Young Voices for the Planet videos help empower kids to create their own projects to get involved.
Adults can help
The videos show adults playing an important role in assisting young activists too. In Germany, Felix Finkbeiner shared his passion for climate justice with his parents, who helped him found Plant for the Planet and work toward his goal of planting 1 million trees (he reached 290,000 at the time of the filming.) In addition, a principal in Miami supported a group of middle schoolers who formed a Green Team to educate their classmates about sustainability, and together, they initiated energy-saving projects such as weather-stripping classrooms and painting the school’s roof white. By the end of the year, the students and the principal were thrilled to find that their efforts had paid off by saving the school $53,000 in energy costs.
Encouraging youth to get involved can help their physical health too. Kids at Monument Mountain High School in Massachusetts started The Food Project, where they worked with administrators to use more locally sourced vegetables and meats for school lunches, and began a school garden where students worked together in the sunshine to grow vegetables. They added more delicious and nutritious foods to their diets while cutting down the distance their food traveled to reach them.
Keeping kids inspired
The video series is proving effective, since young people who have watched Young Voices for the Planet are inspired to take action to solve environmental problems. When three girls from Lexington, Mass. learned about climate change, they felt despair that the grownups weren’t fixing the problem. Once they saw a Young Voices for the Planet video of kids in action, they felt empowered to start “Save Tomorrow” and testify at a town meeting against a bylaw that prohibited solar panels on town buildings. They were warmly received and the law was overturned, buoying them to continue in their advocacy to get solar panels on their school, and to save a tract of forest behind their homes. Now the girls have their own Young Voices for the Planet video and attend screenings in the Boston area. They have surprised audiences from the Massachusetts Climate Action Network to Harvard University by sharing that they are advocating for a fee on carbon, and cite the efforts of Citizens’ Climate Lobby to pass legislation.
From changing light bulbs, to planting trees, to advocating for solar energy, many young people are working hard to help solve the climate crisis. Once kids realize they have the power to bring about positive change, they can have a restored sense of hope for the future as they work toward solutions with their peers. As they experience how they can play an important role in our democracy, they will hopefully continue on that path as engaged citizens for climate action into adulthood.
The Young Voices for the Planet films are now showing on 60 PBS stations nationwide and are available to teachers on PBS Learning Media. See the inspiring videos here, share them with teachers and young people you know, and contact your local PBS station to include them in your broadcasting area.
Young people, parents, and teachers are encouraged to join the CCL Engaging Youth Action Team to help middle schoolers and high schoolers make a difference on climate change.